George McPhee loves a good red herring.
Remember last year when the Golden Knights general manager convinced everyone he was chasing after star defenseman Erik Karlsson just to throw them off the scent of winger Tomas Tatar?
In all seriousness, McPhee finds himself in a difficult spot with this year’s trade deadline looming at noon Pacific on Monday.
The Knights are practically locked into the third spot in the Pacific Division, and a move for one of the available forwards could be what sparks another deep playoff run by the defending Western Conference champions.
Or, McPhee could have seen the Knights’ inconsistent play over the past month and decided it’s not worth mortgaging draft picks and/or prospects on a team that might not get out of the first round.
With the exception of a seven-game win streak from Dec. 27 to Jan. 8 that came almost exclusively against bottomfeeders in the standings, the Knights have been a .500 team through 61 games.
They are 10-17-1 vs. teams that occupied a playoff spot entering Tuesday’s games. By comparison, San Jose is 15-12-1 against playoff teams, while Calgary is 13-13-2.
McPhee has two more chances to evaluate his club before the deadline starting with Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins, which kicks off a four-game homestand at T-Mobile Arena.
Abundance of assets
Should McPhee decide to make a move — he’s proven to be a serial buyer at the deadline throughout his career — he has extra draft picks at his disposal.
The Knights own 10 selections in the opening three rounds of the next two drafts, including three third-round picks and three fifth-round picks in 2019 and three second-round picks in 2020.
But after trading away his first-round pick in 2018 (along with future second- and third-round choices) for Tatar, McPhee might be reluctant to go two consecutive years without a selection in the first round.
The Knights aren’t likely to give up prospects Cody Glass, Erik Brannstrom or Nicolas Hague, but teams could be interested in European forwards Lucas Elvenes and Jonas Rondbjerg, Providence forward Jack Dugan or forward Paul Cotter of London (Ontario Hockey League).
If an NHL player must be included in a deal, defensemen Colin Miller ($3.875 million salary cap hit) or center Cody Eakin ($3.85 million cap hit) are possibilities.
As for the salary cap, the Knights have more than $16 million in deadline space, according to CapFriendly.com, plenty of room for a “rental” player.
With $67.625 million committed to 17 players for next season, the Knights are projected to be $15.375 million under an $83 million cap.
Center William Karlsson will be a restricted free agent and eat some of that space. But with a little creative financing, the Knights could trade for a player on an expiring contract and sign him to a long-term contract.
Where there’s trade deadline smoke with the Knights, there’s not usually fire. McPhee operates like Keyser Soze, sticking his head up for a moment to do business and then, poof, he’s gone.
Tatar’s name wasn’t floated on the rumor mill — but several other Red Wings were — and the Knights were never linked with Pacioretty during the summer before that deal was finalized in September.
The Knights heavily scouted Philadelphia recently, which is either a McPhee smokescreen or a signal of genuine interest in a player such as pending unrestricted free agent Wayne Simmonds.
Ottawa reportedly tabled a final contract offer to right wing Mark Stone and is set to trade its alternate captain and leading scorer if he doesn’t sign an extension.
The chatter around Stone grew quiet last week, which might mean McPhee was working behind the scenes. Stone has a $7.35 million cap hit and requested $9 million in arbitration last summer, an indication of his asking price as an unrestricted free agent.
Boston and Winnipeg are known to also be interested in Stone, a Manitoba native who has 62 points (28 goals, 34 assists) in 59 games for the Senators.
Any deal for Stone, 26, is likely to include a first-round pick, a prospect and another player in return.
Of course, this could just be a diversion while McPhee works in the shadows on a separate deal. Don’t put it past him.
■ Who: Golden Knights vs. Bruins
■ When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
■ Where: T-Mobile Arena
■ TV: NBCSN (Cox 38/1038, DirecTV 220, CenturyLink 640/1640, DISH 159)
■ Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM); ESPN Deportes (1460 AM)
■ Line: Knights -125; total 5½
1. Bow wow. The Knights are searching for consistency during what assistant coach Mike Kelly referred to Tuesday as the “dog days.” After this game against the Bruins, the Knights have 20 games remaining to find their stride entering the postseason.
2. No breaks. This game marks the start of a four-game homestand, and Boston is the first of three straight playoff teams the Knights face. The most recent homestand saw the Knights finish 1-3 and get outscored 8-2 in the third period of their losses.
3. Beast of the east. Boston collected a wild 6-5 overtime win at San Jose on Monday and has won six straight to leapfrog Toronto into second place in the Atlantic Division. Coach Bruce Cassidy announced Jaroslav Halak will start in net. He made 37 saves in a 4-1 victory over the Knights on Nov. 11.